Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
You can follow Chip on twitter (@chiphardwick) or find him on Facebook (Chip Hardwick).
Last week I was so grateful to be at the Presbyterian Women’s Triennial Gathering in Minneapolis, MN. About 1700 saints came together to talk about how the Christian faith unites us together. My specific reason for attending was to work an exhibit booth for Theology, Worship, and Education ministries in the exhibit hall, along with my colleagues Michelle Bartel and Mel Tubb.
Michelle wanted to encourage the conference women to do some theology—that is, to write something they like about God on a beach ball, with a sharpie. The globe was getting filled up with statements like “God keeps me SANE!” to “God loves the whole world, even me,” from “God sees everyone as equals” to “God sent Jesus to save us.” It was really inspiring to see what these dedicated churchwomen appreciated about God’s love for us.
One woman we asked, however, was flummoxed. We presented the ball to her and asked her what she liked about God. She gave us a blank stare, as if the topic had never crossed her mind. She was puzzled, as if saying something about God’s goodness toward the world was unfamiliar to her. She finally said, “Well, I can’t think of anything bad to say about him!”, as if no one had ever asked her the question before.
It makes me wonder if anyone had asked her the question before.
It also reminded me of a scene from the documentary film Soul Searching. This movie, based on the book by Christian Smith by the same name, explores the results of the National Study on Youth and Religion. (You can watch a trailer for the movie here.) Although not in the trailer, I remember an interview from the movie with a Nazarene high school student. The interviewer asked her to say something about Jesus. She turned shy and said, “Well, I can’t really think of anything.” The interviewer says that it doesn’t have to be something profound, or even correct. “Can you just think of one thing to say about Jesus?” “No, I can’t,” came the response.
One of the points of the book and movie is that high school students are often unable to articulate their faith in Jesus Christ, or God, or the Holy Spirit because no one has ever asked them to do so. Students are articulate about all sorts of things, because the adults in their lives ask them to talk about drunk driving, safe sex, drug use, post-high school plans, etc., etc. Yet these same adults are often content to either ignore religious topics or to talk at them, rather than with them, about what they (should) believe.
What's true for teens might be true for the woman who didn't have anything bad to say about God. Has anyone asked her to articulate her faith? One reason I know she was an outlier at the conference is because a key component of the Presbyterian Women ministry is Bible study and discussion. The studies give participants a chance to talk about their faith, to develop a language about it so that they can articulate it and claim it as their own.
If you are reading this blog, you are probably a church leader or participant of some kind. How can you look for ways to encourage others to speak out loud about their faith? Where can you find opportunities to do so?
After all, when the beach ball comes flying your way, you want to be able to grab your sharpie and write something great about our God!
During last week's visit to the University of Tennessee to plan for the Big Tent conference, I had the chance to remember. It started with one of the conference planners, a young man who mentioned in passing that God is sovereign! If that isn’t an invitation for a Presbyterian to start asking questions, I don’t know what else would be! As we talked he told me about his Baptist church and youth pastor, and soon his story merged with my own high school experience.
I was so glad to preach at the Presbytery of Tropical Florida last Saturday morning at the First Spanish Presbyterian Church of Miami. The presbytery has seen several churches leave for other denominations, and they spent the meeting looking backwards and forward—grieving and hoping, all at the same time. I preached on Isaiah 43:14-21, where God both reminds the Israelites of the Exodus and God’s mighty works in the past (looking in the rear view mirror) while also charging them to forget the former things because God is doing a new thing (looking through the windshield).
Years ago when call waiting became an option for telephone land lines, it was a godsend for teenagers and their families. No need to hang up on anyone, and no need to worry about how long a phone call might take, because anyone who called could get through regardless of whether or not someone was on the phone. These days with cell phones we take call waiting for granted. But sometimes call waiting happens when we are seeking a new pastor, or a new place to serve, and it takes much longer than we expect. And when that happens, we no longer take God’s work for granted.
Last weekend I went to Bay City, MI, to preach at the Westminster Presbyterian Church where my good friend Matt Schramm (former chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board) serves as pastor. The evening before I had the chance to see him perform in the musical “Next to Normal.” This musical, remarkably, deals with mental illness in a way that is both fantastical and realistic—and offers some clear implications for ministry.